With a film set for release next year starring Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada, Kô Shibasaki and Tadanobu Asano, the world at large is getting to know about an historical event that is seen as the peak of honour for the Samurai class. Yet we all know that with fictionalisation facts are lost or blurred and as such it was a real joy to discover this well researched and beautifully illustrated title by Stephen Turnbull.
As usual with the Osprey releases, the events surrounding the raid are well researched, put into context and also when backed with a writerly vocal ability to bring it to a modern audience make this not only a fascinating subject to read about but becomes information that the reader can easily recall if required. Add to this the wonderful illustrations from surviving documents of the time backed up with a few pieces by Johnny Shumate, Alan Gilliland and Mariusz Kozik as well as photographs and its an overall satisfactory book. All in, this title was a lot of fun to read and in my opinion, will make a wonderful gift for those interested in the honour system or the Samurai caste.
on 3 January 2012
Having previously read many of Stephen Turnbull's works on samurai history I was looking forward to this as the story of the 47 ronin looms large in the Japanese psyche. While there was some disappointment with the format of the book, I would have preferred a much longer treatment of the subject, there was still a lot to learn and it was intriguing to read Turnbull's different view of the morality of the raid. I also felt that more space could have been devoted to the debate surrounding the legality of the rain and to the debate that took place following the raid as it is central to an understanding of why the 47 ronin are revered still. However, that may be a problem of the books format dealing with the raid in detail rather than the surrounding issues.
For a student of samurai history it is worth the purchase price. There is much in it that is new and it is informative. For someone who has not heard of the 47 ronin before this book makes a good primer.
This is a very good book, even if I found some of its conclusions problematic - to put things mildly... Still, I rate it five stars without hesitation, because it is a really precious thing.
This thing is precious for those who are unfamiliar with the story of 47 Faithful Ronin, as it clearly and comprehensively explains the whole story and offers quite a lot of leads for further studies on the topic.
This thing is also precious for those who were already quite familiar with the story (I count myself amongst them) and who want to know more details and also are willing to hear a point of view about the whole thing quite different from the one that dominates in public perception.
The new details include a good plan of Kira's mansion and a list of all the ronin who took part in the attack - and this list even contains details about the weapons most probably used by each and every one of them. It also includes some of elements of real attack which are virtually NEVER mentioned in films...
The new point of view may seem shocking, as it openly proposes that the REAL tragic heroes of the whole story were Kira and his loyal retainers... Author actually presents some pretty good arguments (which you will have to discover by yourself) to make his case - and even if I mostly didn't buy them, they are worth hearing.
Here is my short explanation about my own point of view about this whole "Chushingura" business. There is no question that Lord Asano committed a very serious crime when attacking Kira during official ceremonies in a place where Emperor was present. In most of places on Earth in the Year of Grace 1701 drawing a blade, using it in anger and spilling blood in a royal official residence when the monarch is present would be considered a hanging offense - such was I believe the case on the British court and in the palace of French kings. Even in the notoriously unruly in those times Poland (my country of origin) swordfighting and attempted murder on the grounds of the royal residence would bring to the culprit a short drop and a rapid stop...
However, in order to commit such a mad act, young Lord Asano HAD TO have a reason - and by forcing him to commit seppuku barely five hours after the incident, the shogun denied him the possibility to at least explain himself. In fact the "Dog Shogun", who was known for his compassion for the animals, whacked Lord Asano like a dog, denying him any kind of respect and de facto covering any kind of wrong that Kira could have done! Further on, by treating so harshly all the Asano clan, the shogun overreacted - and such injustice couldn't be tolerated. And those were, I believe, the MAIN TWO reasons why the 47 carried their attack against Kira - I believe that they REAL target was the shogun himself, but as they couldn't even dream of killing him, by targeting Kira and celebrating the memory of their lord, they caused the ruler of Japan to lose face...
The shogun realised it immediately after the attack as well as he realised that he was trapped - no matter what he would do, his loss of face was now a fact and the only thing he could do was to limit the damage. This is, I believe, the reason why he hesitated so long before finally passing the sequence and why in the meantime he tried to shift some blame for this whole bloody mess on Kira's retainers and the Uesugi clan...
For me, even if I admit that Stephen Turnbull makes some really good points in this book, the admiration I always felt for the 47 ronin and especially for their leader, Oishi Kuranosuke, was not diminished in any way. The defense of Kira, I don't buy it at all. The man HAD TO do something really bad to cause Lord Asano to suffer such an insane access of mad rage - and it had to be something really dirty for the shogun to try to cover it so badly and with such haste. Also even if during the first incident Kira was completely surprised and therefore couldn't be expected to resist and fight, during the raid itself he showed real cowardice, hiding in a dirty smelly place and letting his men dying for him.
I agree however on one point with Stephen Turnbull - young Lord Asano was a darn fool and he didn't deserve to have followers of such value.
Another little detail on which I completely disagree with Stephen Turnbull - the film "47 ronin" with Keeanu Reeves is just a pathetic disgrace, has no value at all and should be completely ignored. THE film about the 47 ronin to watch is of course "Chushingura" from 1962 by Hiroshi Inagaki, still THE BEST of movies made about this famous raid. Once you saw that one, you can also try "The fall of Ako castle" from 1978 by Kinji Fukasaku (SECOND BEST), the classical "47 ronin" by Mizoguchi from 1941 (made on orders of Japanese military) and for a more compassionate vision of the whole affair "47 ronin" from 1994 by Kon Ichikawa.
Bottom line, notwithstanding some controversial statements, this is an excellent little book. If you buy it, be certain to read EVERYTHING, including especially the very last pages, concerning the places of memory to visit - they are VERY interesting and by moments absolutely HILARIOUS! Enjoy!
on 3 July 2014
Very good book insofar as the details of the event are concerned. But the author went a little off-road at the end by taking a clearly sympathetic view of Kira, painting a rather diccicult-to-believe picture that he was a sinless civil servant who couln't possibly have been corrupt. The facts of the case are well presented, but in terms of assigning blame for the whole affair, the author was clearly one-sided.